Hannes Heer

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Hans Georg Heer
Born (1941-03-16) March 16, 1941 (age 78)
Other namesHannes Heer
Known forWehrmachtsausstellung

Hans Georg Heer (known as Hannes) (born 16 March 1941 in Wissen, Rhine Province) is a German historian, chiefly known for the Wehrmachtsausstellung (German Army Exhibition) in the 1990s. While highly controversial at that time, the exhibition is nowadays widely credited with opening the eyes of the German public to the war crimes of the Wehrmacht committed on the East Front during World War II. While having been suspended in 1999, the exhibit reopened in 2001 under the name "Crimes of the German Wehrmacht: Dimensions of a War of Annihilation 1941-1944". The exhibitions were instrumental in the breaking down of the Myth of the clean Wehrmacht in Germany.

Activity in socialist organisations[edit]

As a student, he became a member of the left-wing Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund, where he was a leading member of the communist faction that supported the banned Communist Party of Germany. In the 1970s he was several times convicted of coercion, trespassing, vandalism and other criminal offenses.[1] Being considered a political extremist according to the Radikalenerlass, he was banned from employment in the public service and could not work as a teacher. Heer is a dedicated antifascist [2]


In 1993, he was employed by the Hamburg Institute for Social Research and became known for the controversial "Wehrmachtsausstellung" (German Army Exhibition) focused on German war crimes and atrocities during World War II. The Polish historian Bogdan Musial pointed out in an article published in 1999 that a number of photos that allegedly portrayed "Wehrmacht war crimes" in reality were photos of Soviet war crimes committed by the Red Army, and also stated that around half of all photos used in the exhibition had nothing to do with war crimes.[3] The Hungarian historian Krisztián Ungváry claimed that only ten percent of all the 800 photos of alleged war crimes were actually Wehrmacht crimes, the rest were Soviet war crimes or crimes committed by Hungarian, Finnish, Croatian, Ukrainian, Russian or Baltic forces, or by members of the SS or SD, none of whom were members of the Wehrmacht, or not crimes at all[4] Military historian Rolf-Dieter Müller, Scientific Director of the German Armed Forces Military History Research Office, stated that the exhibition was deliberately misleading.[5]

After criticisms about incorrect attribution and captioning of some of the images in the exhibition, the exhibition was withdrawn by the director of the Hamburger Institut für Sozialforschung in 1999 and Hannes Heer, who refused to acknowledge the criticism, was fired from the institute in the following year and excluded from work on the investigation of and subsequent revision of the exhibition by the institute.[6]

The display was suspended pending review of its content by a committee of historians. The committee's report in 2000 stated that accusations of forged materials were not justified, but some of the exhibit's documentation had inaccuracies. About one per cent of photographs had been incorrectly attributed: "A commission of historians, while confirming the fundamental thesis of the display, discovered that 20 of the 1400 photographs depicted Soviet crimes, that is, murders by NKVD, rather than the acts of German soldiers."[7]

The following is a plausible explanation on how the mislabeled photos ended up in this exhibit:[8]

As for the specific pretext for closing down the exhibit—a few incorrect photo captions—this was attributed to a lack of attention in linking photographs with specific historical events. The pictures in question were found in Eastern European archives after the fall of the Stalinist regimes in 1989-90. Under the Stalinists, they had been catalogued as “documents of Nazi crimes”.
It is not known whether this had occurred as a result of express instructions, in order to cover the tracks of the real culprits, or simply because the archivists preferred to avoid certain difficulties. In any case, those responsible for organizing the exhibit included this material without any closer inspection.

The commission found that the arguments presented were too sweeping, yet reaffirmed the reliability of the exhibition in general:[9]

The fundamental statements made in the exhibition about the Wehrmacht and the war of annihilation in 'the east' are correct. It is indisputable that, in the Soviet Union, the Wehrmacht not only 'entangled' itself in genocide perpetrated against the Jewish population, in crimes perpetrated against Soviet POWs, and in the fight against the civilian population, but in fact participated in these crimes, playing at times a supporting, at times a leading role. These were not isolated cases of 'abuse' or 'excesses'; they were activities based on decisions reached by top level military leaders or troop leaders on or behind the front lines.[10]

The committee recommended that the exhibition be reopened in revised form, presenting the material and, as far as possible, leaving the formation of conclusions to the exhibition's viewers. The revised exhibition was now named Verbrechen der Wehrmacht. Dimensionen des Vernichtungskrieges 1941–1944. ("Crimes of the German Wehrmacht: Dimensions of a War of Annihilation 1941-1944").[11] It focused on public international law and travelled from 2001 to 2004.


  • Tote Zonen – Die deutsche Wehrmacht an der Ostfront, 1999, ISBN 3-930908-51-4
  • Vom Verschwinden der Täter, 2004, ISBN 3-7466-8135-9
  • The discursive construction of history: remembering the Wehrmacht's war of annihilation / edited by Hannes Heer ... [et al.] ; translated from the German by Steven Fligelstone, 2008 ISBN 0230013236
  • Hitler war's. Die Befreiung der Deutschen von ihrer Vergangenheit, 2005, ISBN 3-351-02601-3
  • Literatur und Erinnerung. Die Nazizeit als Familiengeheimnis, in: Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft, 53. Jg., Heft 9, September 2005, S. 809-835
  • als Herausgeber: „Stets zu erschiessen sind Frauen, die in der Roten Armee dienen“: Geständnisse deutscher Kriegsgefangener über ihren Einsatz an der Ostfront, 1995, ISBN 3-930908-06-9


  1. ^ http://www.focus.de/magazin/archiv/periskop-objektiv-falsch_aid_176613.html
  2. ^ http://www.mao-projekt.de/BRD/NRW/ARN/Bochum_Ruhr-Universitaet_Aktivitaeten_politischer_Gruppen_1972.shtml
  3. ^ Bogdan Musial: Bilder einer Ausstellung. Kritische Anmerkungen zur Wanderausstellung „Vernichtungskrieg. Verbrechen der Wehrmacht 1941 bis 1944“. In: Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, 47, Oktober 1999, S.563-591
  4. ^ Chrisztián Ungváry: Echte Bilder- problematische Aussagen. Eine quantitative und qualitative Fotoanalyse der Ausstellung „Vernichtungskrieg. Verbrechen der Wehrmacht 1941 -1944“. In: Geschichte in Wissenschaft und Unterricht 10, 1999, S.584-595
  5. ^ Rolf-Dieter Müller: „Vernichtungskrieg. Verbrechen der Wehrmacht 1941-1944“. In: Militärgeschichtliche Mitteilungen 54/1995, S.324
  6. ^ http://www.berlinonline.de/berliner-zeitung/archiv/.bin/dump.fcgi/2004/0327/leipzigerbuchmesse/0005/index.html
  7. ^ Murder without the Murderers by Kristin Semmens (Department of History, University of Victoria, Canada) http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=11538
  8. ^ The debate in Germany over the crimes of Hitler’s Wehrmacht http://www.wsws.org/articles/2001/sep2001/wehr-s20.shtml
  9. ^ Press release of the committee to review the exhibition Vernichtungskrieg. Verbrechen der Wehrmacht 1941 bis 1944 http://www.his-online.de/fileadmin/user_upload/pdf/veranstaltungen/Ausstellungen/Press_release_of_the_committee_to_review_the_exhibition_VK.pdf
  10. ^ "Crimes of the German Wehrmacht: Dimensions of a War of Annihilation 1941-1944: An outline of the exhibition" (PDF). Hamburg Institute for Social Research. Retrieved 2006-03-12.
  11. ^ "Verbrechen der Wehrmacht. Dimensionen des Vernichtungskrieges 1941—1944". Retrieved 2006-03-12.

External links[edit]